Sacco and Vanzetti, Mary Donovan and transatlantic radicalism in the 1920s

Whelehan, Niall (2020) Sacco and Vanzetti, Mary Donovan and transatlantic radicalism in the 1920s. Irish Historical Studies, 44 (165). pp. 131-146. ISSN 0021-1214 (

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In 1927 the Italian anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed in Boston following a murder trial that was widely denounced for its anti-labour and anti-immigrant bias. From 1921 the campaign to save the two men powerfully mobilised labour internationalism and triggered waves of protests across the world. This article examines the important contributions made by Irish and Irish-American radicals to the Sacco-Vanzetti campaign. Mary Donovan was a leading member of the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee, and a second-generation Irish union organiser and member of Boston's James Connolly Club. In the 1920s she travelled to Ireland twice and appealed to Irish and Irish American labour to support the campaign. At the same time, Donovan and many of the activists considered here held ambiguous personal and political relationships with Ireland. Transnational Irish radicalism in the early-twentieth century is most commonly considered in nationalist terms. Taking a distinctly non-Irish cause - the Sacco-Vanzetti case of 1920-7 - allows us to look from a different perspective at the global Irish Revolution and reveals how radical labour currents reached into Irish and Irish-American circles during the revolutionary era, though the response to the campaign also indicates a receding internationalism in the immediate aftermath of Irish independence.